By Eric DurrApril 6, 2017
LATHAM, N.Y. -- The New York National Guard marked the 100th anniversary of the day the United States entered World War I with a short ceremony at New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs headquarters here on Thursday, April 6.
The ceremony - which featured remarks by New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul - also marked the kick-off of New York State's World War I Centennial observances.
Observances like this, even for events which happened 100 years ago, provide a chance to take time out from daily life and remember those who served, Hochul told an audience of National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, and veterans invited to the event.
"Through history New Yorkers have always answered the call when our country needed us," Hochul said.
President Woodrow Wilson had sought to keep the United States out of the war, which began in 1914 between the French, British and Russians on one side and Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the other.
But when Germany began sinking American ships in 1917 - despite having agreed to stop such attacks in 1916 -- Wilson felt compelled to go to war.
On April 2, 1917 he asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany. On April 6, 1917 Congress complied.
New York National Guard units, like the African-American 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the "Harlem Hell Fighters" and the 69th Infantry Regiment, known as an Irish-American regiment, distinguished themselves in the war, Hochul said.
"We have a proud history," she stressed.
Hochul also noted that during World War I, women served in large numbers in the military for the first time, and also played a key role in manufacturing munitions and equipment throughout New York.
The role women were playing in the war was an argument for granting them the right to vote, when New York did so in 1917, Hochul said. This was three years before the 19th Amendment gave all American women that right.
The ceremony featured the World War I Doughboy Color Guard of the New York National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division.
The 42nd Infantry Division was organized at Camp Mills on Long Island, with National Guard units from 26 states. The goal was to create a division that could go to France quickly, and the best option was to ask National Guard's across the country to send units.
The Division earned its nickname as the "Rainbow Division", because the division stretched across the country "like a rainbow" according to Col. Douglas McArthur, its first chief of staff.
The division's World War I Color Guard commemorates that history.
When the U.S. entered World War I, the active Army had a strength of just over 100,000 Soldiers, Army Brig. Gen. Patrick Center, the New York National Guard director of joint staff, noted in his remarks.
These Soldiers were scattered at small posts across the United States or in garrisons in the Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Panama.
There were just over 112,000 troops in the National Guard, which the National Defense Act of 1916 had made the reserve of the Army, Center said. So when the Army needed to expand it turned to the National Guard, he explained.
New York had around 26,000 members in its National Guard, so the New York National Guard was called to service early, Center said.
Many of the 17,000 New York Guardsmen who had served guarding the Mexican border in 1916 - some of whom had just returned home in March 1917 - turned around and went to war in Europe, Center said.
New York's 69th Infantry became the 165th Infantry Regiment and served among the Rainbow Division's 25,000 Soldiers. Poet Joyce Kilmer - the author of the poem "Trees" - was killed in action while service with the 69th Infantry.
New York's 27th Division went to war with 27,000 Soldiers and fought alongside British troops in Belgium. In October 1918 -- during the offensive that broke the back of the German Army -- the New York Division played a key role in breaking the German Hindenburg Line.
New York's 1st Aero Company, which had conducted the first long-distance American military aviation flight in 1916, did not go to war as a unit, but its members all served in the brand new U.S. Army Air Service.
Michael Lynch, New York's Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, noted that the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation will be leading the state's observance of the World War I centennial.
A special website will track events for the next 20 months, and will include history about New York in World War I, Lynch said.